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Frayed Beyond Repair?

Rachel Ginsberg

After decades of managing to pull through in their marriages, why are more and more couples divorcing once they’ve hit middle age?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

It was the morning after the last sheva brachos for their youngest child. Miriam and Zev shuffled into the kitchen, sat down with their respective mugs of coffee, and cleared their throats. “It should have been the sweetest time for us,” remembers Miriam, “but instead we both knew what was coming. I looked at Zev and thought to myself, Now that the kids are settled, are we supposed to suffer through the rest of our life together in a marriage that has just caused pain and heartache for the last 30 years?” It seems like wherever you turn today, you hear of couples or spouses who have struggled for years or even decades to keep their family unit intact, until the challenge becomes too daunting, the effort too unrewarding, the investment too exhausting, the danger too great, or the pain too overwhelming. Yet on the outside, some of these couples even look happy and stable, with no outward signs of struggles or challenges at all. What went awry after all those years, leading them to throw in the towel on several decades of wedded bliss? From Brooklyn to Jerusalem, divorce patterns in the Orthodox Jewish world seem to be following the national trend: While the total divorce rate in the US has actually leveled off, in the 50-plus age bracket it’s taken a leap. Twenty years ago, one in ten divorces occurred in the middle-age population; today it’s climbed to four in ten. Whether the evidence is statistical or anecdotal, the stories abound. One Boro Park couple who had been married for 25 years got divorced during the period of their daughter’s engagement, and the angry wife made sure her ex would be barred from the wedding. Less than a month later, surprised wedding guests scratched their heads in wonder: If the couple stuck it out for 25 years already, couldn’t they have waited another three weeks? Aliza C. remembers how her Flatbush in-laws called a family meeting during her sheva brachos and announced their imminent divorce. Her very proper parents were livid — Aliza’s husband really was a great guy, but they would have never considered a shidduch with a boy from a divorced home.HindaR. called it quits after her youngest daughter got married. “We had actually been separated several years before, but, with intensive therapy, decided to get back together to give a stable structure to the children,” she says. “But the situation soon reverted back to its old dysfunctional patterns and I knew it would be over once the kids were out. By that point, we had nothing to do with each other. We’d literally pass each other in the hall. I was 60 years old. I couldn’t imagine going through the next 60 years living in an emotional igloo.”

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